Do We Need Health Report Cards?


By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)

When was the last time you got an “A”?

As the CEO of a company of just under 100 people and the father of two school age children, performance measurement is a part of my everyday life. Whether it’s an employee evaluation, a “sunset review” with a client or reviewing one of my daughters’ report cards I’m constantly being presented with information on how the people in my life are performing the tasks assigned to them. Most likely you’re the same way.

In fact, if we choose to we can fill our life with performance feedback from our bosses, our colleagues and teammates, even ourselves. The QuanifiedSelf movement is something we’ve written about before and the emergence of tools to track just about every portion of our health lifestyle should see this trend gain even more popularity. For motivated individuals, there’s no end to the data that can be measured and utilized to improve health and wellness.

But the key part of that last paragraph is “if we choose”. As I mentioned, I’m the CEO of a company, husband, father of two daughters (and a dog named Polly. Hi, Polly!) and an active member in several trade and community organizations, my time is always at a premium. Add to that a short attention span and an overwhelming amount of information input (I get literally hundreds of e-mails a day) and I consciously choose not to receive more data in my life. And my situation is by no means unique. You could fill a good size bookshelf with all the volumes that have been written about information overload in the last couple of years. So how can our community get the information we need about our health status without clogging our “feeds” with ever increasing datastreams.

In New York City, the Health department faced a similar dilemma when it came to restaurant inspections. They had been leaders in adopting digital solutions to make information available to consumers. Any member of the public could go online and check out full reports on any of the thousands of restaurants that make up the New York city dining scene. The problem, of course, was that no one would actually take the time to do that. No one wanted another datastream in their information flow. But the inspection data the Health department was providing was vital to the public interest. Greater awareness of this information would not only improve public health but also increase compliance by the businesses the Health department was inspecting. Their solution – a simple letter grade that would immediately establish how well a business had done on their inspection (the city is currently debating whether inspection certificates should also contain a QR code so that consumers can easily go online and read a full report). The city also made it mandatory for these grades to be displayed in the windows of inspected premises causing an immediate “name and shame” reaction (Would you want to eat in a restaurant that got a “C”?). The results? Increased consumer confidence and a significant decrease in health code violations.

It seems to me that we could apply a similar solution to our personal health care needs. I’m not an HCP and while I may have a basic understanding of where my blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be I’m not really going to take the time to find out the difference between high density and low density lipoproteins or what my VO2 max level is (truth in advertising, I had one of my co workers help me with that last sentence). But if you told me I got a “D” or an “F” on my last doctor’s visit you can be sure that I would find out how to get that grade up. And I’m going easy on myself. My wife wouldn’t be happy if one of our kids came home with a report card that was all “C”s and she probably wouldn’t be happy if I cam home with a health report card like that either. On the other hand, if your kid came home with a report card that was all “A”‘s, wouldn’t you make a big deal about it? Wouldn’t you put it up on the fridge and brag to your friends, maybe even tweet about it or post a comment on your FB page? Of course, you would. As parents we do this all the time.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had similar discussions about our health and the health of our families? I don’t need another datastream in my delay information flow but I could definitely use some guidance on how I’m doing healthwise and some inspiration to keep on the positive track. And I’m sure you could, as well.

So consider this my official request to my own physician and the healthcare industry in general. I want a report card. Decide the subjects, decide the tests I have to take and how you give me feedback beyond the letter grade. But give me a simple, easily comprehensible way to let me know how I’m doing.

Just don’t ask me to take the SATs again, ok?



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